TAMPA – A day before facing elimination for a third-straight game, the Canadiens don’t appear to be a team burdened by pressure.
The Habs hit the ice in Tampa looking loose and focused on Wednesday, hardly the picture of a team ready to see their season come to a close on Thursday night. That could be because they’ve been here before.
“We’re used to playing in games where there’s no tomorrow and that’s when we’re at our best. I get the feeling that the longer we play, the better we get and the more confidence we build,” explained Michel Therrien, whose team previously rallied back from a 3-2 series deficit against the Bruins in 2014 to earn a spot in the Conference finals. “I get the feeling that the longer we play, the better we get and the more confidence we build. Tomorrow won’t be any different. We want to force a Game 7.”
Having been in Tampa’s position just two weeks ago after going up 3-0 against the Sens before needing a Game 6 in Ottawa to close out the series, the Canadiens know how hard it is to beat a team fighting to keep their playoff hopes alive. They’ve taken some of the lessons from their close call in the opening round into their current position against the Lightning.
“For sure [Tampa’s] got more pressure. We’ve been there. When you have a three-game lead, you have the pressure to close. The longer it goes, the more they feel that pressure,” described Therrien. “We did that in the first round and the fourth one is the toughest one because you’re meeting a team that’s really desperate. On our side, we feel good about playing in those games. Look at our record the last two years when we’ve had our backs against the wall and it’s almost like this is when we perform the best. Tomorrow for us won’t be any different.”
The Canadiens have already made history in their series against the Lightning after forcing a Game 6 for the first time after trailing three games to none. Based on their reaction after winning Game 5, that’s not the extent of the history they’re looking to write.
“It was pretty special after that win that guys were already looking forward to that next game. We weren’t really celebrating the big win we just pulled off; we were looking forward to what we have to do,” shared Nathan Beaulieu, who returned to action on Saturday after missing the previous six games with an upper body injury. “It shows the character of the group in that instance. The biggest thing we need to do is stay calm and not get too emotional. It’s Game 7 every night for us, so we just have to stay positive and confident.”
Outshooting the Lightning in every game of the series so far, the Habs have also limited the NHL’s leading offense to three goals in the past two elimination games. The Canadiens know that earning a Game 7 and potentially becoming just the fifth team in NHL history to erase a 3-0 deficit to win the series won’t be easy, but for now they’re just looking to add another date to their postseason schedule.
“We have to stay even-keel and just worry about going out and playing the next game,” prescribed Max Pacioretty, who has a team-leading four goals so far in the playoffs. “We feel good about ourselves now and we feel good about our game. But one bounce or one mistake can end our season, so we have to have the right mindset.
“This team is special. The group of guys is special and we have a lot of fun together. We never get sick of each other. We come here two days before the game and leave the day after so the guys get to spend some time together,” he added. “That goes a long way. You want to play for each other on the ice and support each other off the ice.”
Part of the team’s ability to skate confidently into Amalie Arena looking to earn another game on home ice has something to do with the man between the pipes. Owning a 7-0 record in elimination games dating back to his gold medal winning performance in Sochi, Carey Price is able to lift the collective pressure off his teammates’ backs as much with his presence as with any highlight-reel save.
“He calms me down. Having him back there gives you that mental confidence that you know he’s back there protecting us,” said Pacioretty, who faced off against his All-World netminder at the 2014 Olympics as a member of Team USA. “That gives you confidence to go out there and make a play you might not otherwise.
“He has that calm demeanour that everybody knows and he’s the same way in the room,” continued the 28-year-old sniper. “If he ever does get heated, he has a way of hiding it or maybe letting it out in private. But that’s the competitor that he is. He puts on that calm face and we all know he’s going to play his best.”
When you have a team full of players ready to come up big in big moments, rewriting history doesn’t seem quite so daunting.
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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